Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Ridges' Daytrotter session shows a folk band on the move

January 17, 2012

In the brilliant Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, author Michael Azerrad describes Beat Happening as flaunting “rudimentary musicianship and primitive recordings, a retro-pop style, and a fey naivete in a genre that became known as ‘twee-pop’ or ‘love rock.'” Twee would continue on through the ’90s, and its fey naivete would become a driving force in indie-pop (which was twee without the junky recordings). Indie-pop begat indie-folk of Iron + Wine and Sufjan Stevens, which crashed into the singer/songwriter genre just as the latter was trying to differentiate itself from Lilith Fair and alt.country. Thus, the two sides of indie-folk met in the middle to create a new aesthetic, and that (along with a little bit of bluegrass and some Great Depression imagery thrown in along the way) is how we ended up with Mumford and Sons.

All that to say, there’s a serious side and a playful side to indie-folk, and The Ridges most definitely fall on the serious side. The band’s Daytrotter session shows them building on the strings-heavy folk sound that they crafted on their debut EP. The three EP tunes don’t stray much from their previously-recorded incarnations: “Not a Ghost” is still a rambling, shambling, catchy song with atmosphere; “War Bonds” shows a bit of their playful side with a bell kit, while still commenting on “dead friends”; “Overboard” is a sea shanty of merit. The upsides: the strings sound even more vital in these recordings, while the vocalist Victor Rasgatis gets unhinged. If you haven’t heard the Ridges yet, this is as good a way as any.

The real treat is the two unreleased songs. (I expect that a great many more bands will start sending me Daytrotter sessions of new music, because if a band’s up to one-take recording, that’s a five-song EP with no recording costs, yo!) “Dawn of Night” would have fit in perfectly with their self-titled EP, as a raw energy pulses through the tune, punctuated by ragged “oh-oh”s. The underlying intensity that The Ridges bring to the table is something that’s rarely seen in folk; there seems to be something truly ominous about their work, and not in a “ha! look! this is creepy!” sort of way. “Jackson Pollock” tones down the eerie for a four-on-the-floor fast song. Despite the speed, the arrangement is remarkably complex for a live recording, which makes me all the more impressed by The Ridges. The string melodies are especially solid.

The Ridges’ “melodic strengths are honed to a fine point” here, as I hoped in my last review. If you’re into serious indie-folk (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Little Teeth), you should be all over this. Look for the Ridges to make a splash in 2012.

The Ridges' debut is an exhibit of confident orchestral folk

June 25, 2011

One of the reasons I love working with Independent Clauses is that I like seeing things improve. Tracking a band from its very beginnings to success is a gratifying process, especially when I can hear bands improving on things I (and others) have pointed out in previous releases.

This is probably why The Ridges‘ self-titled EP is a bit baffling to me: there’s almost nothing I can recommend. The band has appeared fully-formed. The members have their orchestral folk rock down. People are going to like this or hate this not because it has to grow, but because people just do that with bands.

The EP fits the formula of what a great short-player should be almost to a T. There’s an establishment of the sound (“The Insomniac’s Song”), complete with pensive string intro. “Overboard” tweaks the formula by introducing sea shanty elements. “Not a Ghost” is their “single” – it’s an easily memorable, jaunty, interesting song with a good melody.

“Invented Love” is almost a perfect example of a third act turn, to prove the band isn’t a one-trick pony: it’s upbeat and enthusiastic without abandoning the core sound. “War Bonds” brings the sound back home to the beginnings with a killer closer. In short, they tick off everything I want to hear in an album/EP except a pensive acoustic track.

So as an Independent Clauses review, this is pretty unusual: I have no suggestions, really. It’s just plain good. I’d like to hear more of this, especially as their melodic strengths are honed to a fine point. As a statement of what this band can do, The Ridges’ EP is one of the strongest and most assured debut I’ve heard all year. Now they just need to dig world-conquering songs out of the vein they’ve already started to mine.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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